Former trustee Leon Black ’73 countersues former Russian model

In his latest legal filing, Black denies Guzel Ganieva’s sexual abuse allegations, claiming that she and her counsel defamed him and that she attempted to extort him.

by Noah Durham | 11/9/21 5:05am

11-9-21-bvac-hannahli
by Hannah Li / The Dartmouth

New developments have come to light in the legal proceedings surrounding former trustee Leon Black ’73 and former Russian model Guzel Ganieva. On Oct. 28, Black filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Ganieva and her law firm, Wigdor LLP, alleging racketeering, defamation and extortion. 

The filing comes just days after Vanity Fair reported that the Manhattan district attorney’s office opened a criminal probe into Black. Earlier this year, Ganieva alleged that Black had raped and sexually harassed her, as well as taken her against her will to Florida to meet Jeffrey Epstein. After Black publicly denied the accusations and alleged extortion on the part of Ganieva, she filed a defamation lawsuit against him in New York state court. 

The allegations by Ganieva came after a review commissioned by Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm Black co-founded and led as chief executive, found that he had paid Epstein approximately $158 million from 2012 to 2017 for a variety of matters, ranging from advice on tax and estate planning to advice on philanthropic endeavors. 

According to the complaint filed by Black and his lawyers — a copy of which was provided to The Dartmouth by Sloane & Company, a New York-based “strategic communications” firm hired by Black — Black admitted to a sexual relationship with Ganieva, which he claims was consensual but “regrettable.” However, he denies any allegations of sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges that in 2015, Ganieva had “demanded” that Black pay her $100 million. 

According to the complaint, Ganieva threatened “to disclose and distort their relationship to Mr. Black’s wife and the board of the public company he ran, as well as the press, if he did not pay her this extraordinary sum.” The complaint also alleges that Ganieva knew her allegations were false, but that she intended “to cause Mr. Black severe reputational, professional, and economic harm.”

In an interview, one of Black’s attorneys, Susan Estrich — whose past clients have included such high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct as former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and former U.S. Court of Appeals judge Alex Kozinski — called the case against Black a “cancellation campaign” and said that he was the “target of a concerted attack.”

“There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that my client has done anything unlawful,” Estrich said. “Leon Black is going to fight back and defend his reputation.”

Estrich said she has spent a lot of time “fighting on behalf of rape victims,” and noted that “when you’re dealing with a powerful weapon like calling someone a rapist, you have to deal with care.”

“Enormous damage can be done to an individual’s reputation simply by accusation,” she said. “We live in a culture right now where, particularly when the charge is sexual assault, we have guilt by accusation.” 

She added that it is unusual for lawsuits such as the one filed by Black to name individual law firms as defendants, but in this case, she claimed, Wigdor LLP went beyond its “traditional” and “responsible” role. 

“The law firm was an active participant, not simply representing its client, but guiding its client in a way and organizing this enterprise so as to cancel our client,” Estrich said. “They filed complaints they knew to be frivolous.”

Estrich said she has known Black since they studied together at Dartmouth in the 1970’s, when she was here as a part of a year-long exchange program.

“Here is this old friend of mine, a guy I’ve known for almost 50 years,” she said. “I’m proud to be defending him and representing him, and to be bringing this action on his behalf.”

In response to the lawsuit, Ganieva’s attorney Jeanne Christensen, whose firm Wigdor LLP is being sued, called the accusations lodged by Black and his lawyers “baseless” and “ridiculous.” 

“There are no merits to the case,” Christensen said. “It’s actually made up, and it’s done to tell any other victims out there that this is what will happen to you if you dare do what Guzel did.” 

She also said that the complaint “conveniently leaves out our other client,” referring to a Jane Doe who alleged that she was raped by Black at Epstein’s Manhattan townhome in the spring of 2002. In September, Ganieva amended her lawsuit to include Doe’s accusations, which according to Christensen is beyond the statute of limitations for a civil case for Ganieva but could help bolster and substantiate Ganieva’s claims under New York’s Gender-Motivated Violence Act. 

“There are many cases in New York that hold that, in order to have the GMVA claim, you need evidence that the perpetrator acted the same way towards other women, not just the plaintiff,” Christensen said. 

She also noted the timing of the lawsuit, saying it was “not a coincidence at all” that Black’s complaint was filed three days after the Vanity Fair article about the Manhattan DA’s office was released. 

Estrich said that she has been working on the complaint for approximately a month and that its timing is unrelated to media reports.

As for her law firm being sued, Christensen said she expects those charges to be dismissed, saying, “There are legal rules that insulate law firms from exactly this type of lawsuit. It’s called an absolute privilege.”

Many on campus and in the broader Dartmouth community have called for the Black Family Visual Arts Center to be renamed in light of the allegations against Black. Diana Whitney ’95, a cofounder of the Dartmouth Community against Gender Harrassment and Sexual Violence, wrote in an emailed statement that she was “disgusted but not surprised” by Black’s lawsuit.

“Black’s defamation suit is a familiar tactic of a wealthy alleged perpetrator weaponizing the legal system in an attempt to silence a survivor,” Whitney wrote. She also reiterated her group’s calls to rename BVAC.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence did not respond to requests for comment. In September, she declined to comment on the ongoing legal situation, but confirmed that, as of then, there were no plans to rename BVAC.

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